By now, most of you have heard the major news to come out of Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando, including a sneak peek at Star Wars Detours, season 5 of The Clone Wars and the 2013 release dates for Ep2 and Ep3 in 3D. I was able to attend the first three days of the celebration and here are the highlights. Consider this my living room slideshow from my vacation to a galaxy far, far away.Day 1: Thursday
After being in Orlando for five days visiting all the Disney parks, including riding the revamped Star Tours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, day one at Celebration was family day. My wife and two daughters joined me as we took in the convention and attended a few of the panels. After walking the Exhibit floor and seeing the girls’ eyes bug out at the ultimate Star Wars toy store, our first stop was the “Inside The Clone Wars Tech” presentation with Dave Filoni and Joel Aron. Dave and Joel went through some of the upcoming goodness in season five and showed an extended clip of Embo chasing Anakin, Padme and Obi down a snowy slope. They confirmed the scene is an homage to the chase scene in “For Your Eyes Only.” Though I was hanging on Dave and Joel’s every word, the kids weren’t that into the panel. They wanted to go back to the floor and get autographs, specifically from Ashley Eckstein. We returned to the floor and watched some Jedi Training, which is always fun, and did some shopping. After lunch, we continued walking the floor and I noticed that the crowd seemed a bit thinner than at CV two years ago. This was partly due to a better floor plan that allowed for wider aisles, but also due to the fact that Thursday is a work day for many people. It was a good thing for us because it helped us keep better track of the kids as they ran from shiny object to shiny object. There were a LOT of shiny objects! We then bought tickets to get autographs from Peter Mayhew and Ashley before stopping in the R2 Builders and 501st rooms. Someday I’m going to build an R2 — if I ever finish all my other projects around the house. After getting Peter Mayhew’s autograph, my wife took the girls to get Ashley’s autograph on a picture of Ahsoka and Chewie while I attended Dave Filoni’s “Telling a Star Wars Story” workshop. I was literally the last person to get into the packed room, but it was great to see Dave run through the format of Clone Wars storytelling. As the panel let out, I was passing through the narrow hallway leading out of the room when a side doorway opened right next to me. Suddenly, Dave Filoni and Joel Aron walked out and were shuffling toward the exit right next to me. Did I shake their hands? Did I say, “Hey Dave and Joel! I’m a big fan. Nice to meet you!”? Nope. I just nodded and kept walking. Here’s the thing. While I admit I am a fan, there’s also a side of me that doesn’t want to BE a fan or act like a fan. A missed opportunity? Maybe, but I’m not one to shove my hand out and get in people’s faces just because they’re famous in the entertainment world. They won’t remember me and I know it can get overwhelming to have people always trying to touch you. After about 10 feet of walking, other people noticed Dave and Joel and crushed in to get autographs or tell them their life story. I stepped aside and kept walking. That’s just how I am as a fan.
After meeting up with my wife and kids, and hearing their story about how Ashley thought my daughter’s name would make a great Star Wars character name (!), my wife took our youngest back to the hotel while my older daughter and I stayed to watch TPM in 3D. The Digital Stage at Celebration features a very good screen and the staff had it calibrated for a great 3D presentation. The movie looked far better than in any previous screening I’ve seen.
I left day one of the convention with mixed feelings. It was great to have everything more open, but I was worried that the smaller size of the crowd (at least from my perception) was a sign that maybe Star Wars fandom was waning. Most of the fans were enthusiastic and giddy (only 1 or 2 “Han shot first” t-shirts that I could see), but I did overhear a few negatives. For example, I caught a snippet of a conversation in the 501st room between an older woman working behind the counter to fans admiring a display of full-size battle droids. She told them, “Oh, I don’t watch that cartoon. I saw the prequels, but quickly erased them from my brain. I’m an OT only girl.” You know, she’s entitled to her opinion and her subjective tastes, but it’s annoying that it’s never enough to just say, “I prefer the OT.” There always has to be a snarky quip about the prequels being a virus or a brain disorder. I just don’t get why that’s necessary. Just because someone likes something about the prequels doesn’t require a “yeah, but the prequels suck” response. I just doesn’t.
Day 2: Friday
As happy as I was to share a day at Celebration with my wife and kids, I was also ready to spend the rest of the convention on my own. Leaving our families in the hands of the Disney corporation, my friend Shannon and I returned to the Orange County Convention Center ready for a day of waving our freak flags high and following our own schedules. To my surprise, the crowds were far larger, proving my fears about fan disinterest were unfounded. If anything, the crowds seemed larger than at CV.
Our first stop was the “Vocal Stars of The Cone Wars” panel at the Chapin Theater. The performers read a parody skit as their Clone Wars characters written by James Arnold Taylor. Lots of fun! These actors clearly are having a good time and enjoying being a part of the Star Wars phenomenon. It was also great to hear the cast talk about how the audience for The Clone Wars is 40% female and its largely attributed to Ashley. I know two little girls who liked Star Wars before Ahsoka Tano came on the scene, but LOVE it now that she’s a part of it. Go Star Wars girls!!!Next, I had planned to go to the “Super Secret Star Wars” panel with Seth Green, but I opted to follow Shannon to Joel Aron’s photography and lighting workshop. In addition to being The Clone Wars visual effects master, Joel is also a passionate street photographer and he shared his tips on how to take better photos while at the convention. His presentation had virtually nothing to do with Star Wars, but it turned out to be one of my favorite experiences at the convention. After his hour long talk, Joel took about ten of us out on the exhibit floor to take photos. We watched Joel’s technique of patiently “stalking” (his word) an interesting subject and then getting the photo quickly before moving on. He also gave advice about what to wear to blend in to the background in order to get the best candid shots. This advice proved to be very useful later at the convention.
After Joel departed to shave for the Clone Wars premiere (really), I spent the next hour or so taking photos on the Exhibit floor. These aren’t my best photos, but they’re interesting.
Then it was time to get in line for the Clone Wars season premiere. We were herded into the holding area next to the Digital Stage where we were told we couldn’t leave until after the show — 2 hours in total. When several people protested that they couldn’t keep people from bathrooms for that long, the organizers started slowly taking people in groups of 6 at a time. Note to the organizers: humans need to pee, especially human nerds who only drink Mountain Dew.
We were then lead from the holding area past the red carpet where the Clone Wars cast and crew were conducting interviews. We were ordered not to stop and I heard some fan near me mutter, “Don’t look, Marion! Keep your eyes shut!” As I passed by I saw that Joel Aron had indeed shaved. Then it was time for the show. After watching last season’s two-part finale, the season opener began with thunderous applause. The episode has been recapped elsewhere, but I thought it was a terrific opener and very impressive. My only complaint is that the episode omits what happens between Obi and Ventress after their escape from Maul and Savage. Dave Filoni admitted at his panel discussion the next day that a scene was shot where Obi basically lets Ventress walk away, but that it was cut for time. Hopefully that scene will be restored for the blu-ray release next year. It’s seems like an important moment given their unlikely partnership at the end of season four.
The night ended with a screening of ‘Revenge of the Sith’ followed by “A New Hope’ on the Digital Stage. We watched all of ROTS, which looked great, but left halfway through ANH, which looked much grainier and dated in comparison (to be expected). I was curious to see what the reaction would be to the Han/Greedo shootout and sure enough the moment was met with a predictable round of boos. I’ll have more to say about this issue in an upcoming post, but clearly the blink-and-you-miss-it shot of Greedo and Han firing in rapid succession is still a raw nerve for a lot of fans. They simply will never ever EVER accept it. And every screening of the film from now on will feature a bunch of yahoos catcalling at the screen. Ugh.
Day 3: Saturday
I began the day by following Joel Aron’s advice about dressing appropriately for street photography. I wanted to get some better shots on the Exhibit floor and I dressed in a plain black t-shirt and jeans to better blend into the background. After arriving at the convention center, however, photos of the fans would have to wait until after Shannon and I attended Dave Filoni and Joel Aron’s Clone Wars panel at the Digital Stage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, GEORGE LUCAS!”
Now here’s where Joel Aron’s street photography class proved to be the best investment of time at the whole convention. I was dressed perfectly to blend into the background. My camera strap coiled around my wrist, my finger on the trigger, I darted past everyone to the front row right in front of George and started snapping pictures. I stood right next to a videographer and just pretended like I was part of the press contingent. I was at most 10 feet in front of the stage the whole time.This is about as good as it gets for a fan: the man himself just showing up and having fun hanging out with people he clearly likes and respects.
After the panel — and about a half hour of me asking myself, “Did that really just happen?!” — it was time for the 3D preview of ‘Attack of the Clones’ with Dennis Muren and Jon Knoll.It was great to see such legends in person and the clips of AOTC looked amazing. Muren and Knoll took great pains to emphasize that the 3D conversion process isn’t like using an Instagram filter on a photo. Each shot is painstakingly divided into layers and separated to create the steroscopic effect. Muren also pointed out that the 3D will come out out from the picture frame more than was done in TPM 3D. The speeder chase scenes look amazing, with the 3D really enhancing the sense of height and scale. Most impressive was the final troop formation shots from the end of the movie, with the rows of clones receding into the distance. They didn’t mention the release dates at the time, but everyone now knows that AOTC and ROTS will both hit theaters in the fall of 2013.
After some shopping for gifts, I then attended Ben Burtt’s session on editing. Burtt didn’t reveal many specifics about Star Wars editing, but he did show a pre-viz animatic for the Obi-Wan/Grievous chase on Utapau that was pretty outrageous. He showed the sequence to demonstrate how ideas are generated, evolve and are often discarded in the storytelling process. It was a good illustration of the freedom the artists had on the prequels to come up with ideas, contrary to the hateboy meme that George never sought out input. To be honest, the most interesting moment of the panel is when Warwick Davis just randomly walked by in the aisle. It was one of a handful of random Warwick Davis sightings throughout the weekend, often with Warwick cruising by in a flash on his Segway.Following Ben Burtt, I caught another screening of the 3D footage before getting in line to attend Dave Filoni and Pablo Hidalgo’s “Unlearn what you have learned” panel. Since the line was short, I went off to take a few pictures before realizing that I never had the opportunity to meet up with some of my fellow fans who I knew would be attending. Most specifically, I had been hoping to meet Paul F. McDonald of Star Wars Heresies to thank him for his great posts. As I returned to where Shannon was holding our places in line, I told her I was bummed that I hadn’t contacted Paul to meet up. I showed her a tiny picture from Paul’s Facebook page and noted how impossible it would be to find him. I then noticed that the guy right behind us in line had glasses and dark hair sort of like the guy in the photo. On a whim I asked, “Your name isn’t Paul, is it?”
“What’s your last name?”
“Paul F. McDonald?!”
“Yeah. You’re freaking me out. Who are you?!”
“Holy shit! I’m A New Hope from A Certain Point of View.net!”
“No WAY! I’m a big fan!”
“I’m YOUR big fan!”
And so forth. What are the freakin’ odds that the one guy I’d been hoping to run into was standing right behind me! Unbelievable!
Paul and I gabbed nonstop until the panel began and we later talked about his upcoming book on the scholarly analysis of Episodes I-III. Unfortunately, it was then the end of the day and Paul had to leave to return to his hotel. Shannon and I stayed to watch ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ It was too short a visit with Paul, but my suspicions about him being one of the nicest guys on the internet were certainly proven true. Go to his site. Read his stuff. Send him a message of support.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the fourth and final day of the convention, so I missed the “Why We Love the Prequels” panel. Next time, no cutting out early for me.
All in all, I had a blast and came away convinced Star Wars is only gaining in popularity thanks to people like Dave Filoni, Joel Aron, Ashley Eckstein and Seth Green pumping new life and energy into the franchise. I was also reminded once again of why I love this saga so much. Beyond all the complaining and whining and hateboy crapola, there is a pure feeling of happiness that comes from being a fan of this saga. I’ll leave you with this image, which for me encapsulates the magic of Star Wars and Celebration VI. It’s my favorite photo I took all weekend.Thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you all.